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2002-03-27 - 8:19 p.m.

A Hantu Tetek Story

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As she held the X-rays in her hand, Sarimah remembered the story of the Hantu Tetek, the buxom ghost who prowled at dusk and killed children by placing their heads between her breasts. What a way to perish, nose squashed against sternum, ears walled in by hot, yeasty flesh. Snuffed out like a candle between forefinger and thumb, death spelt with a pair of double Dís. Her mind turned towards forensic speculation: what was the nature of the death, how long did one struggle in the darkness before being plunged into a deeper oblivion?

She had once read a newspaper article about an American who suffered a concussion after his head was smacked by the knockers of a lap-dancer; subsequently he had sued her for humiliating damages. Maybe this was the case with the Hantu Tetek. Pectoral boulders which it used to crush delinquent skulls, those truants still playing hide-and-seek even after the twilight prayer call--to adults a summons, to children a warning--had long exhaled its final notes.

Sarimah considered how it was the morphology of the breasts which ultimately decided the mode of homicide. Maybe there was no tissue in them at all--they were pure muscle, reptilian, flecked with fungal patches of scales, and they could constrict a child's head, squeezing the carotids like grapes. The Hantuís nipples seeking each other out, to be united in an auto-erotic serpent's kiss. If not muscular, then cystic, globes stretched thin by gallons of fluid, streaked with veins like river charts on a map. Asphyxiation, all the victimís pores buttered up, nostrils plugged by slug-like extensions, blobs of gelatine.

Or perhaps a more profound death, a mystery hidden in the cleavage of the Hantu Tetek, a red glow, porthole portal, a landscape from the point of view of an embryo, promising eternal warmth, deliverance from a night filled with the chilly shouts of parents and a guaranteed spanking at home. Unlike the boys in her kampung, Sarimah did not believe the power of the Hantu Tetek was in her overt carnality--unlike the Pontianak, soft-spoken, tombstone-cradling seductress who exuded sex from her hair and intoxicating frangipani from her pores. Hantu Tetek practised no gender discrimination, boys and girls were equal prey, as long as they had strayed beyond the magic circle bounded by the front yard and the clock's hands.

Moreover, didn't her mother tell Sarimah that the Hantu Tetek's breasts were monstrositiesóputrid hives of maggots? A paradox then, a mortal ghost--with breasts that kept on rotting, but never towards complete disintegration. This then was the Hantu Tetek's torment and the source of her malevolence: that the only organs on her body showing signs of life were the ones that were undergoing eternal putrefaction. Cells budding only to decay the next second, it was anybody's idea of Hell: to be revived and then tortured, resurrected and put through unimaginable pain. To be alive means to be dying--it was a fact that Sarimah was getting used to, a universal truth she had to acknowledge. Especially now.

Sarimah held the X-ray, or more specifically, the mammogram, against the window. Those radiolucent patches, what the doctors called 'calcifications', became brighter, inflamed. With almost a cry of dismay Sarimah scanned the phantom-like patches. She held her mammogram higher towards the light. She saw ghosts, brazen and invincible, immune to the powers of sunlight and prayer.

 

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